FCC Eyes Reducing Barriers to Broadband Buildout

The Federal Communications Commission will launch an initiative on Wednesday to spur broadband deployment by reducing regulatory barriers.

The Broadband Acceleration Conference to be held Wednesday morning at the agency will kick off an aggressive agenda to expand the reach and reduce the cost of broadband deployment.

"It has been estimated that removing red tape and expediting approval processes could unleash $11.5 billion in new broadband infrastructure investment over two years," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski told Reuters on Tuesday.

Accessing utility poles, rights-of-way, and sites for wireless towers are among the barriers companies seeking to establish broadband networks must contend with.

These and other regulatory roadblocks account for 20% of the cost of broadband buildout, Genachowski said.

The agency is expected in April to vote on an order to streamline access to pole attachments and to seek comment on rights-of-way practices that may be standing in the way of investment.

The FCC is seeking more concrete ideas that it can move forward with or recommend to Congress and other agencies to speed the deployment of broadband while reducing costs, Genachowski said.

Wednesday's conference will bring together federal, state and local governments as well as industry stakeholders, including broadband providers, utility companies and telecommunications carriers.

An internal FCC working group will ultimately use what is learned at the conference and other meetings to lay out specific goals and a timeframe for swiftly curbing barriers to broadband buildout.

A separate working group of industry and technology leaders formed last year is slated to unveil in March the steps it believes the FCC can take to spur broadband buildout.

The agency has already moved to eliminate some of the hurdles associated with broadband buildout.

The FCC took action in 2009 to speed up permitting of cell towers that were too often held up by local zoning authorities simply not making a decision, Genachowski said. The agency created a "shot clock" that put a 90-day time limit on permitting decisions.

The FCC on Tuesday proposed reforms to transition funding from a rural phone subsidy program thought to be broken and inefficient to a new Connect America Fund that would support the buildout of high-speed Internet services in rural areas.

An FCC fact sheet said shifting $5 billion from the landline phone subsidy to broadband could indirectly create 75,000 jobs due to broadband's implications for health care, smart grid, education and small business.

Additionally, President Barack Obama called for deployment of high-speed wireless services to virtually all Americans within five years during his annual State of the Union speech to the U.S. Congress last month.

Investing in the 40,000 towers needed to expand mobile broadband to virtually all Americans could create 53,000 jobs, an FCC fact sheet said.

Genachowski said unleashing spectrum for mobile broadband, transforming the universal service fund to support broadband and removing regulatory barriers are atop his agenda for speeding the deployment of broadband.